It comes down to the populist versus the globalist.
Far-right candidate Marine Le Pen and center-left candidate Emmanuel Macron have come out on top in the first round of the French presidential elections and will be moving ahead to the final round on May 7.
According to the French polling firm Ipsos, exit polls show Macronwith 23.7 percent followed by Le Pen with 21.7 percent of the vote. Far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon and conservative candidate François Fillon tied for third place with about 19.5 percent each.
That Le Pen and Macron are the two frontrunners moving into round two of the elections represents a remarkable turning point for France.
In a stunning rejection of the status quo in French politics, neither of the two mainstream parties — the Socialists on the left nor the Republicans on the right — made it to the final round, a first in France’s history.
The results also reveal an electorate starkly divided over the future of France and its place in Europe, as the two victors in this round have polar opposite visions of the future. Quite simply: One vision is closed, one is open. One is nativist, one is worldly.
Le Pen heads the far-right National Front party, which in the past was known largely for its xenophobia, anti-Semitism, and what scholars have called “soft-core” Holocaust denialism.
Le Pen has tried hard to reform the party’s image, instead presenting a modern populist vision of France that is avowedly anti-globalization, anti-EU, and anti-immigrant.
Macron, a political neophyte who has never held elected office, represents En Marche, a brand new center-left party. His vision for the future is of a more open, more tolerant, and more inclusive France at the center of a strong European Union.
So in a very real sense, the future of Europe, globalization, and the identity of France itself will be decided in the next round of elections on May 7.